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Personal wellness program

Bill Mory
Special to the Herald Democrat
Herald Democrat

A lot of pressure was placed on health insurance companies over the last 15 years to treat behavioral health concerns in the same ways they treat physical health. Insurance plans have been compelled to establish parity in mental health care, which refers to offering the same levels of reimbursement for mental health conditions on your health plan as for physical health conditions. As part of that new effort, we started to see Wellness Programs with mental health components built into them. In the last 8 years, in fact, it has become actually unusual to see a health insurance plan without a Wellness program as a prominent feature.

While these plans have offered some progress and encouragement in caring for our mental health, there remains work to be done to continue to change the way we see, feel and talk about mental health as a real health concern. This need may be even more important for people who are without health insurance. These people do not necessarily have the introduction, the encouragement or the access to mental health wellness. Thus, many of us are left to find our own way, to create our own mental health wellness program. A good place to start is one of my favorite wellness activities, Mindfulness.

Mental Health Matters has offered mindfulness tips in the past, but given today’s social climate may be a good time to revisit the topic. The many physical benefits of having a regular mindfulness practice has been discussed in science circles for a long time. We have learned that long term high stress is a major contributor to many chronic health problems. Since 1979, we have seen increasing research proving mindfulness mediation to lower blood pressure, reduce chronic pain, help treat heart disease and improve sleep. It can help us avoid common chronic illnesses but also finding ways to be mindful on a daily basis help us with mental health challenges as well. It is increasingly common for mindfulness to play a part in psychotherapy for treatment of depression, substance abuse, eating disorders, interpersonal conflicts, anxiety and panic disorders.

One of my mental wellness heros, Jon Kabat-Zinn, brought mindfulness into the mainstream discussion through science and research and he defined it best. He describes mindfulness as "...paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment, non-judgmentally...". Read that again, slowly. This simple act takes us away from what I call the 'yak-yak machine', which is the thinking part of our brain. Those almost constant thoughts, which we all have, keep us from the peace of just 'being' in the present moment, where we are, doing just one thing.

I like to call it The Texas Three Step. It's a dance of sorts that you can practice to keep yourself in the present moment as a way to improve your overall well-being. It goes like this: 1) Focus your attention on your breathing, in and out, 2) Notice what comes up in your mind, accept it and allow it to pass along, out of your mind, and 3) Refocus your attention on your breathing. It is that simple.

Bill Mory is licensed therapist in private practice, in Texoma, who is an active member of the local behavioral health network and a provider of workplace training on Mindfulness, Emotional Brain Training and other topics. Learn more at views and opinions expressed here are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of Texoma Marketing and Media Group.